bounce back
'He is reminding me of CJ' - Coombes earns swift recall to Ireland squad
The Munster back row has been in brilliant form after being dropped by Ireland back in November.

AS JOEY CARBERY begins his mission to prove a point to Andy Farrell and the Ireland coaches, he doesn’t have to look far from an example of how quickly things can be turned around.

In truth, 37-times capped Carbery is at a very different stage of his Test career to the twice-capped Gavin Coombes, but his Munster team-mate suffered the disappointment of being dropped by Ireland relatively recently only to forcefully earn a return.

In fairness to Farrell, he has been good at getting responses from players he omits. Don’t forget that James Lowe was dropped back in March 2021, sent away with specific things to get better at, did exactly that, and soon returned to become a key man for Ireland.

Coombes, too, was seemingly told he needed to sharpen up in terms of his physical fitness and his detail. It must have been a stinging experience to be sent back to Munster midway through the autumn campaign last year when Coombes was surely targeting a cap in the back row against Fiji. Instead, Leinster’s Max Deegan came into the squad in his place.

It would have been easy for Coombes to feel sorry for himself, nurse his wounds for a while, and let his form drain away. His reaction, however, has been exactly what Farrell wanted to see.

Over the past two months, Coombes has been playing perhaps the best rugby of his career. He is clearly fitter, getting through a remarkable amount of work. Oftentimes, Coombes has been Munster’s top carrier and tackler, as well as being among their busiest contributors to the ruck on both sides of the ball.

His passing has been smoother and more accurate than ever, with Coombes demonstrating that he is far from being a one-trick pony.

Having turned 25 last month, Coombes may feel like he should be further ahead in his Test career. Caelan Doris is four months his junior but has 23 caps and is already one of the leading number eights in Test rugby. That’s the standard that Coombes aims to reach.

munsters-gavin-coombes Billy Stickland / INPHO Coombes has been excellent for Munster. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The key thing for Coombes is that he is back in the mix now, having been named in Farrell’s Six Nations squad yesterday. He just needs a chance on the pitch to show that his recent form and focus can translate into making Ireland a better side.

Coombes will be crucial for Munster again this weekend in Toulouse, where another big performance would be timely with Farrell watching on as he weighs up his selection for the Six Nations.

Coombes’ Munster team-mate, Jean Kleyn, has been impressed with how the Skibbereen man has shifted into the second row at times this season, as well as his all-round form.

“He is flying it,” said Kleyn. “He is reminding me of CJ [Stander] in terms of even his work rate the last few games. I mean the stats he racked up against Northampton, like 18 carries, 20 tackles, it is phenomenal stuff, really knocking on that door for Ireland.

“You are making it very hard not to pick you if you are playing like that and creating those stats. I mean he is scoring loads of tries off the back of my latches!

“No, in fairness to him, he is very good at the moment and you are hoping it continues that way and he only gets better and in fairness to him, he has ever since he cracked onto the scene. He has only been improving.

“He is always doing extras after training, never happy to just settle or being at the level he is. He wants to improve the whole time which is, especially in a young fella like him, you see that and at the level he is already at, you know there is only upwards for him.”

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